IFCBAA MEMBER UPDATE – Port & Empty Container Park Outlook


To our valued customers,

Please see below International Forwarders & Customs Brokers Association of Australia (IFCBAA) update on Ports & Empty Container Parks in Australia.

IFCBAA would like to update members on the current port and ECPs situation and outlook in the short term.

There are a lot of moving parts contributing to the issue in Sydney as follows – some of which applies to Melbourne and Brisbane – and Perth to a lesser extent.

• Ships are arriving full and some bunching is occurring to get a berth window
• Stevedores crane rate is said to be averaging 28 lifts per hour
• Stevedores are limiting exchanges to turnaround ships as quickly as possible and not delay them in port to load more empties and exacerbate bunching and port omissions. (*exchanges are the total lifts off and onto a vessel in port – if the stevedore allows 4000 TEUs exchanges and there are 3000 TEUs imports to unload, only 1000 TEUs of export and empties can be loaded)
• This week a shipping line requested to exchange 4500 TEUs and was allowed 3200
• Under the circumstances, sweeper vessels obtaining a window to evacuate thousands of containers is a challenge – combined with instances of one stevedore unloading a vessel at Port Botany and then sending it out to anchor and then it returns a few days later to another stevedore to load empties.
• Whilst some lines have evacuated bulk quantities of boxes, there is still a backlog to clear at the ECPs and stevedores – SAL and NSW Ports estimates 38,000-42,000 empty TEUs backlog. Worth noting is the efforts by SAL and the major shipping lines throughout December, in working to increase the number of bulk empty container movements out of Port Botany/Sydney based ECPs
• Some inaccuracies in Container Chain data has been detected by IFCBAA, which has been adding to the process issues being experienced
• IFCBAA continues to push for transparency for industry for details of ECP capacity/utilisation, to date this information has been withheld, with IFCBAA having now elevated this issue to the CEO of NSW Ports, in addition to raising concerns on the ECP operating hours restrictions over the Xmas/NY period
• Protesting to SAL and the shipping lines continues by IFCBAA in relation to the continuation of the levying of congestion surcharges onto industry for full container import and export movements through Port Botany
The outlook for evacuation of empties volumes varies depending on the shipping line. Some lines have ad-hoc sweeper vessels arranged over Xmas and into the New Year, but if the bunching of scheduled vessel rotations continues in these numbers and carrying huge import TEUs loads, it will be a while before the empties backlog reduces substantially.

For the most part, the ECP’s are busy but coping with the high import volumes, with the exception of Cosco’s OCS ECP, which has been congested and operating above capacity. The issue has been bubbling away in the background now for several weeks with the transport companies managing the best they can. With the OCS going to a 24 hour booking has sent everyone over the edge, exacerbated by the short weeks of the festive season – detention bills will follow……

Apart from the Cosco/OCS issues, Port of Melbourne Container Park, Medlog and Cargolink have a mix of amended access, hours & capacity issues which haven’t helped.
Vessel scheduling is contributing, with some vessels either being delayed or omitting Melbourne and thereby providing fewer opportunities to reposition empties. November export of empty containers was up 22.4% refer to attached POM trade report. Shipping Lines are committing to bringing in sweeper vessels to clear up the backlog as reported by SAL.

Port of Melbourne has put in place short term licence agreements with several landside transport operators to provide them with additional land (within the PoM boundary) to use as overflow container or truck storage.

The VTA hasn’t made any public statement on issues with ECP’s and Port of Melbourne is monitoring the situation.

IFCBAA will continue to engage with the stakeholders to improve the situation, although the congestion issues are likely to continue for a while longer due to the systemic moving parts outlined.

The Port has increased its usage – a combination of the peak season, increased import TEUs volume and knock-effect of ships omitting Sydney and offloading in the Port of Brisbane.

• Delays are occurring at all terminals
• Patricks and DPW are automated but still having delays and wait times increasing
• Hutchison is badly impacted, with truck waiting times of 5 – 9 hrs
• Carriers cannot continue to absorb waiting time and are passing on the costs
• Carriers are hopeful that the situation recovers post-Christmas but as wholesale, retail and building trades industries are booming it may take a while longer to improve
• ECPs in Brisbane are pretty full.
• Exports are down since COVID hit and empties are not being used or evacuated significantly
• Ships omitting Sydney and offloading in Brisbane have added empty container volumes into the mix
• 2 ECPs have given notice that they will not be accepting charges for waiting time detention on drop off, eventhough they have accepted slots through Containerchain.
• The slotting system appears not to match the timing of unloading and loading of empties at the ECP.
• Bottlenecking is occurring and truck queues are constant and waiting up to 3 hours
• IFCBAA recommends the ECPs and Containerchain spread the slot times further apart to match their service capabilities
• At the weekend, the Port is open but ECPs are closed, so carriers are unable to offload an empty container on the weekend.

• Fremantle Port is busy with instances of terminals congestion with increased volumes and knock-on effect of the issues experienced on the East coast, with revised vessel rotations and port omissions.
• DP World Protected Industrial Action over Xmas and New Year will further impact vessel and container operations
• ECPs and container de-hires are busy but no real concerns

A major focus for IFCBAA has been on the Sydney Port Botany congestion situation, which has impacted vessel schedules and stevedores operations in Sydney and created a ripple effect to other ports, leading to port omissions, severe congestion at the ports and ECPs overcapacity. The situation is further exacerbated by the imposition of the Port Congestion Surcharge by several lines.

IFCBAA has expended an enormous amount of time and energy lobbying government ministers and as a member of TfNSW ECWG attended 12 meetings over the past weeks and engaged with the SAL, shipping lines, stevedores, Ports, transport providers and members and in the media, in an effort to improve the flow of containers and unblock the ECP overcapacity of empties.

The seeds of positive change from that engagement are now starting to see progress being made in the ports where congestion has been occurring, it is now up to the stevedores and ECPs to work their schedules together to ensure that the level of empty container evacuations available to them, does occur.

Whilst the shipping lines are endeavouring to evacuate bulk numbers of empty containers from all ports, the strong import volumes continue to undermine this effort. It appears that there will be more empties evacuated over the Christmas and New Year Period, with a number of shipping lines arranging for the bulk evacuation of empties via sweeper vessels.

Members experiencing sustained container de-hire issues can provide IFCBAA with examples where excessive time periods are incurred waiting for empty container ECP dehire nominations and dates; constant re-directions at short notice and for other significant issues relating to information surrounding empty container dehires. Such issues will be continue to be raised directly with senior executives of the relevant shipping lines.

IFCBAA will continue to engage with stakeholders at each port to improve outcomes for our members.



If you have any questions regarding the impact of the current situation of Australian ports and empty container parks on your supply chain please contact your local SILA representative.

Thanks & kind regards

SILA Customer Service